Woods ready for leap into unknown at fan-free major

Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on Tuesday. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 06 August 2020

Woods ready for leap into unknown at fan-free major

  • Woods experienced new fan-less reality at the Memorial Tournament last month

SAN FRANCISCO: Tiger Woods is preparing for a journey into the unknown as he heads into this week's PGA Championship hunting for a 16th major championship against the surreal backdrop of a deserted course at TPC Harding Park.

Throughout his career, the 44-year-old former world No. 1 has become accustomed to roaring galleries following his every shot, providing a jolt of energy that Woods has fed off time and again.

Yet this week's PGA Championship in San Francisco will be different.

Restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 mean that the first major of 2020 will be a fan-free, muted affair.

Woods got an early taste of his changed environment on Tuesday during a media briefing. Where in the past a scrum of reporters would have attended, on Tuesday only a handful of journalists were present.

"Well, that's an unknown," Woods said when asked about how the absence of fans might affect his chances.

"I don't know if anyone in our generation has ever played without fans in a major championship. It's going to be very different.

"But it's still a major championship. It's still the best players in the world. We all understand that going into it, so there's going to be plenty of energy from the competitive side.

"But as far as the energy outside the ropes, that is an unknown. And hopefully I can put myself in a position where I can be in that position where I can feel what it feels like to have no fans and also coming down the stretch with a chance to win."

Woods' former caddie, New Zealander Steve Williams, is among those who believe that the lack of fans might prove to be a hindrance.

"With that element missing, for someone who hasn't played a lot of tournament golf this year, it'll be challenging for Tiger to find that spark he needs," Williams said this week.

Woods experienced new fan-less reality at the Memorial Tournament last month, at Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio. He finished tied for 40th.

"Those four days at Muirfield were a bit different," Woods said.

"It reminded me of sometimes on the weekend, you'd tee off Saturday morning and you'd just barely make the cut and you're first off and there's no one out there.

"But generally by the time you make the back nine, there's thousands of people out there on the golf course waiting for the leaders to tee off.”

"But that never happened. So that's the new world we live in. We just have to get used to it."

Woods, meanwhile, has one eye on this week's weather forecast in San Francisco, with the former world No. 1's lower back notoriously vulnerable to the cooler temperatures expected.

"When it's cooler like this, it's just making sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly," said Woods.

"I know I won't have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it's 95 every day. That's just the way it is."

Woods, who underwent spinal fusion surgery to rescue his career, said he had spent most of his downtime during the pandemic practising at home.

"I feel good," he said. "Obviously I haven't played much competitively, but I've been playing a lot at home.

"Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I've been gearing up for. We've got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it. This is going to be a fun test for all of us."


Bayern Munich, as always, the team to beat in Bundesliga

Updated 17 September 2020

Bayern Munich, as always, the team to beat in Bundesliga

  • Bayern’s main challengers are Leipzig; they open title defense Friday at home against Schalke

DUSSELDORF, Germany: Bayern Munich is always the team to beat in Germany. As the European champions, even more so, and Robert Lewandowski knows it.

Lewandowski scored a scarcely believable 55 goals in 47 games last season as Bayern won the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League. At 32, he is still a key player, though the team around him looks different with Leroy Sané in and Thiago Alcantara leaving.

“If you play so good in the last season, then everyone is looking at you now and how you will be in the new season,” Lewandowski said in the run-up to Friday’s season opener. “And if you are on the top you have to work harder to stay longer on the top. And I think so for us that is the big challenge for this season.”

Just like last year, Bayern’s main challengers are Leipzig, the only team to stay undefeated against Bayern last season, and Dortmund, whose young stars are rapidly gaining experience and maturity.

Bayern ended up winning the title by 13 points last season, but for most of the campaign it was a much closer battle. The Munich team slipped as low as seventh in December before recovering under coach Hansi Flick to win 19 of their last 20 league games and a record-extending eighth straight Bundesliga title.

Bayern start  Friday at home against Schalke, before Dortmund play Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday and Leipzig host Mainz on Sunday. Bayern will follow that with matches against Sevilla in the European Super Cup on Sept. 24 and against Dortmund in the German Super Cup six days later.

 

No fans

After the last campaign finished without fans, a deal between German politicians Tuesday allows supporters back into stadiums for a six-week trial at maximum 20 percent capacity — with one big exception.

Bayern wanted 7,500 fans on Friday but fell foul of a rule which keeps the stadiums closed if the local coronavirus infection rate climbs too high.

Games with partial crowds have split Germany’s vocal fan groups. Boycotts are rare but many say they won’t take part in any organized displays of support for the team. Social distancing rules kill the atmosphere, some argue, and there’s widespread discontent with the perceived unfairness of barring away fans and allocating the few available tickets by lottery.

 

New-look Bayern

With barely four weeks between the Champions League final against Paris Saint-Germain and the start of the new league season, it’s hardly surprising that Bayern’s squad has changed little.

Forward Leroy Sane is finally eligible to play after joining from Manchester City in July and could make his debut against Schalke, the team he left in 2016. New signings were barred from the Champions League tournament. He will need to find his place in an attack already boasting Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara left Bayern after seven years for Liverpool on Thursday and likely won’t be replaced. Three loan signings have also moved on. Philippe Coutinho is back at Barcelona, with Ivan Perisic returning to Inter Milan and defender Alvaro Odriozola to Real Madrid.

 

Dortmund’s year?

Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho lit up the Bundesliga last season — Haaland with 13 goals in 15 games and Sancho with 17 goals and 17 assists — but Dortmund’s title challenge was once again let down by defensive frailty.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dortmund have not  bought a center back. However, they have replaced rampaging right back Achraf Hakimi, who was on loan from Real Madrid, by signing the more experienced Thomas Meunier from Paris Saint-Germain.

Sancho is still a Dortmund player — so far — despite a determined attempt by Manchester United to buy him. The transfer window closes on Oct. 5.

Seventeen-year-old English midfielder Jude Bellingham looks like Dortmund’s next young sensation after arriving from Birmingham, and scored on his debut in the German Cup on Monday. But there’s still a lack of depth at the back, with midfielder Emre Can drafted in at center back for the cup game.

 

Replacing Werner

Leipzig’s run to the Champions League semifinals was remarkable for a team only founded 11 years earlier, even given energy drink giant Red Bull’s financial backing, but it obscured a fundamental weakness for next season.

Without Werner, both of Leipzig’s goals in the 2-1 quarterfinal win over Atletico Madrid came from midfielders, and the 3-0 semifinal loss to PSG could have been very different had center forward Yussuf Poulsen not missed a good first-half chance while trailing 1-0.

New signing Hwang Hee-chan started in the center forward role and scored in Leipzig’s first game of the new season, a 3-0 win over third-division club Nuremburg in the German Cup. The South Korean is Leipzig’s 17th signing since 2012 from Salzburg, Red Bull’s Austrian club.

Known for his pace and incisive runs, Hwang is more in Werner’s mold, while Poulsen is an old-school center forward known for his heading ability.

 

Outside challengers

Gladbach was the team which surprised everyone last season in the Bundesliga.

During Bayern’s blip under former coach Niko Kovac, Gladbach was the early-season leader and eventually secured Champions League qualification by finishing fourth. The pandemic has caused financial strain, though, and on-loan midfielder Valentino Lazaro is the most notable signing.

Bayer Leverkusen, last year’s fifth-place finisher, was weakened in attack by selling Kai Havertz to Chelsea and Kevin Volland to Monaco. It has patched the gaps by signing Roma forward Patrik Schick.

Hertha Berlin investor Lars Windhorst’s lavish funding hasn’t translated to big spending in the off-season. Lucas Tousart is the most notable arrival, though that deal was actually concluded in January.